We live in a world of echo chambers.
An echo chamber is a metaphorical description of a situation in which certain ideas are amplified or beliefs are reinforced by those around us. We have become biased in the media we consume and the friends we choose. It could be the one-sided media outlets you consume or prominent influencers you follow on social media. It could be the “yes” men or women who work for you or the five friends you enjoy spending time with on the weekends.
What’s Wrong with the Echo Chambers We’ve Created?
The dangers created by echo chambers have become an increasingly important topic of conversation among psychologists and sociologists. Some say the political media echo chambers we’ve created could be the biggest threat to our democracy in today’s hyper-connected age.
The problem with echo chambers is that the more times we hear an idea or suggestion, the more we are led to believe it’s actually true. This is actually a well-known empirical truth in cognitive psychology. Repetition gives a statement a sense of “truthiness” — the perception of being true based on what others are saying, not what’s actually true. When we hear the same statement or idea repeated over and over again, we start believing it’s true whether it really is or not.
Of course, believing false information can play itself out in any area of life — from national politics and race relations to individual business decisions and personal relationships.
3 Principles to Help Us Get Outside Our Echo-Chambers
So how do we prevent the damage created by the echo chambers we create? While there are a variety of different tactics you can try, it requires a paradigm shift. Here are a few principles to help you take the first step outside the echo chambers in your world.
Really try to see things from their point of view.
The fact that people see the world differently is one of the primary reasons echo chambers exist. While we give a lot of lip-service to “walking in someone else’s shoes,” when was the last time we actually put it into practice? The way that we see the world is limited by our experiences. When we take the time to really try and see things from another person’s point of view, the better we’ll get at breaking down our echo chambers.
As the brilliant character Atticus Finch explained to his daughter, Scout, in To Kill a Mockingbird, “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Realize that we agree on more things than we disagree.
One of the biggest problems I have with news media and social networking is that they seem to highlight our differences and disagreements more than the things we share in common.
But if we take a step back, we realize that we actually agree about more things than we disagree about. For example, we can all agree people deserve to be treated fairly and with respect. The next time you read a post by someone you disagree with, remember they share this belief.
When we’re looking for the common ground — the things we all agree on — we are well-positioned to avoid the dangers of echo chambers.
Remember you can learn something from anyone.
How often do we find ourselves avoiding a person because they might think differently than us? But ignoring from people who are different only kills our potential to learn and grow.
Even if you have completely different ideological views, chances are you can learn something from every single person you meet. It only requires being open to the possibility by actually engaging in the conversation — and paying attention to the seemingly subtle lesson or takeaway.
Who is Challenging You to Think Differently?
One reason this is probably easier for me is that I had a great role model in my grandfather. Although he grew up in rural Tennessee, he intentionally sought out friendships with people who were different. He spent a semester in Oman teaching accounting. He had a monthly breakfast with a group of friends who didn’t have anything in common other than their age. He instilled the value of finding common ground with people who think differently.
How do you know if you live in an echo chamber? You’re not being challenged to think differently by anyone.
My hope is that these principles will help you lay the initial groundwork so that you can experience the benefits of life outside the echo chamber.